In/visibility: Projects, Media, Politics
American Ethnological Society & Society for Visual Anthropology
Spring Meeting Boston, MA 10-12 April 2014

Paper Title  Alternative formats, or the lack thereof, in academic publishing: Prejudice towards text and abstract knowledge systems in academic design

Abstract Despite vast ideological shifts in anthropology, from post-processual archeology to sensory ethnography, unconventional knowledge representation remains uncommon in academic publishing. Throughout interviews with anthropologists, publishers and Oxford University press designers, I found that despite conscientious interest in alternative scholarship, academically rigorous content was almost unanimously associated with the presentation of text, with as little stylization as possible. Ian Buck, designer for the Oxford based, Berg publishers, describes academic monograph design as “invisible because if you look at a bog standard monograph, it almost looks like a Word document between a cover’ (interview Buck: 18.5.2012). This style of invisibility produces the impression of non-design, because the appearance seems to mimic the most automated and standardized presets of word processing software. Traditionally, there have been considerable financial limitations for the inclusion of sound, unconventional layout, experimental film and image work. However, in the 21st century publishing climate of desktop design and electronic journal subscriptions, to what degree are persisting models of academic publishing based on cultural constructs of the academic and to what degree are those design conventions based on technological limitations. Just as no photograph can exist in a cultural vacuum of mechanical objectivity, beliefs of neutrality in the presentation of text are highly problematic, particularly when left unexamined. This paper asks which ideological stances to knowledge are propagated by the use of invisible, or ‘default design’ in academic publishing, and what are the repercussions upon the diversity of content being deemed legitimate and or scholastic? Conference paper based on MSc Visual Anthropology Dissertation Research University of Oxford 2012-2013 Chapter excerpts below. Pink

Invisible Design Defined Neutral, Invisible or Non-Design. apparently removed from the appearance of subjective guiding or shaping of the information; the ideological appearance of neutrality in text design, implying the absence of individual or cultural choice in formatting.

Research Question In the 21st century publishing climate of desktop design and electronic journal publishing,  to what degree are persisting models of academic design based on technological limitations (like color printing, budget or access to media) and to what degree are those design conventions based on cultural constructs of what the ‘academic’ should look, feel, or even sound like? Summary on Researching the Construction of Rationalism & Objectivity   I found that there isn’t a simple equation, that, for example, “this medium (for ex. text) = academic/scholarly” & “that medium (film, sound, illustration) = is not academic/scholarly.” Rather, throughout research I found that how the medium is used to enact a certain stance to knowledge construction is ultimately deemed or interpreted as more or less academic. Academic merit is often distinguished by whether the medium is used to enact a more removed or mechanized ‘analytical reason’ or reveals a more ‘subjective, personal sensory impression.’ Fabian’s 1983 Time & Other summarizes

“…to truly be admitted as ‘evidence,’ particularly under the quantitative and structural methods of certain scientific paradigms, data has to be “cleansed from possible contamination by lived experience and the personal bias such experience might introduce”

(Fabian 2002 [1983]: 72-73). Michael Frede, scholar of Ancient Philosophy, explains the existence of empirical versus rationalist ideals of knowledge as a rejection or acceptance of the activity of reason. Reason is defined as ‘going beyond sense impressions to judge the reality underlying them’ (Frede 1990: 237). For Plato and Aristotle, reason was a critical faculty able to ‘grasp reality, essences, natures, forms and relations between them’ (Frede 1990: 237).

  1. This epistemological stance of reason as an active apprehension of reality is still taken as the foundation for concepts of scholarly knowledge, divorced from the subject mess of sensorial human experience

  2. Striving for the erasure of the author/subjective act of construction (Time &Other)

On Technological Limitations As Relative…Because you’d have to change the machine Richard Lawrence, who runs a private printing press, urged me to ‘think mechanical constraints and money’ (Lawrence: 13.7.2012). Though he now prints CD jackets for local bands and greeting cards with declarations like ‘make cake not war,’ Richard Lawrence spent an illustrious career in academic publishing houses from Oxford University Press to Harvard Press. I asked Richard whether, in his experience, he thinks concepts of rationalism influence academic design conventions. I list off the small quantity of colour images, limited typographic variety, and the use of templates in the academic publishing industry.

Richard replies

 “No…[standardized design] is not because they are trying to inject academic legitimacy. It’s because they would have had to change the machine, they don’t [break design models] because they have to avoid it because of certain grounds of cost”

(Lawrence: 13.7.2012).

“This size graphic,” he explains, adjusting his fingers into a square, would cost the same as two pages of type. Richard is speaking to the costs of printing press technology, which did not change significantly for about four and a half centuries. Specialized characters, engravings, photography, diverse colour usage, even graphs and charts in the sciences, required additional time to construct and thus additional cost. Simply put, Richard continued, “you standardize everything because it’s cheaper” (Lawrence: 13.07.2012).

On Technological Limitations As Priority..Because you’ll change the machine when deemed necessary However, while financial considerations are significant factors in the use of colour, inclusion of audio content, or content tailored design, any glance through an anthropological library shows a diversity of printing techniques over the 20th century, which manage to diverge from the standard. Underlying all three examples is the larger concept of perceived disciplinary value and necessity in relation to technological costs.

Based on interviews and archival research, design decisions are not only determined by the medium or technology, as in the instance of producing illustrations or colour. There was a proliferation of illustrations, photographs, and colour functioning as physical data in 19th and early 20th century texts in anthropology, in spite of the significantly more difficult and expensive printing capabilities.

The 1842 publication of The Earth and Man: lectures on comparative physical geography in its relation to the history of mankind begins with a hand-coloured page of racial typologies. Though it is hard to gauge the exact print run and distribution of this edition at the time of press, I have included it to demonstrate the transgression of technological limitation in publishing images, adding color and other elements, which would have been expensive and challenging at the time.

The second edition of Notes & Queries in 1892 not only included specially designed tables and illustrations, but also went to the trouble of manually pasting in hand coloured samples of skin types and eye colour. Use of colour, alternative layout and illustration function for the visual classification of scientifically reproducible data. Despite technological difficulties, it was considered valuable enough to go to such extremes as transgressing technological and financial limitations to manually paste color sheets into each copy.

In the 1939 Races of Europe, dozens of pages are dedicated to an anthropometric style of portraiture in which twelve homogeneously laid out images on a singular page sit across an adjacent page of textual description. Compared to 21st century digital layout and printing technology, in 1939 it would have been tremendously labour intensive to produce the quantity and uniformity of photographs laid out in Races of Europe.

The need to biologically classify, or scientifically legitimize the construction of ‘race,’ or more importantly racial difference, through the mechanized, repeatable and encyclopedic layout was deemed necessary, in spite of the arduous and costly printing processes in 1939.

It could be argued that both Notes & Queries and Races of Europe were mass run books and thus might have had the budget backing complex media usage. However, producing large quantities of texts like Notes & Queries which included the hand colored skin tone palette might also speak to the difficulty in reproducing larger numbers of the texts. Within early 20th century anthropology, illustration, photography, colour and alternative design were all deemed necessary as pieces of quantifiable data. Rather than being solely illustrations of text, these elements were integral to the physical anthropological construction of human typologies and could not be as “adequately described,” or legitimized/evidenced in text for scientific dictums of repeatability and statistical consistency. Have we moved beyond believing in mediums beyond evidentiary recording devices? Oxford University Press & Learning to be Academic 

Roxanne Selby, the senior commissioning editor for the OUP academic and professional law division, further simplifies the matter, ‘the reason academic monographs are done in black and white is obvious – there is no market need for the (majority of them) to be done in colour – academics don’t need hand-holding through content, the content is generally not pedagogical (i.e. although they are using it for research, it’s not aiming to teach), academics are not a market who require features’ (Selby: 17.08.2012).

The conscientious design decisions then generally become: the more serious and academically rigorous, the more text and less shaping or apparent ornamentation to that text. Roxanne’s quote also introduces the concept of function in relation to design and the perceived function of academic monographs and journals as without need to tailor or engage content. Consequently, literacy training through textbooks, like that sampled at OUP, impart an expectation that serious scholarship is presented as the least manipulated. In reflecting on his move from the monograph division of OUP Cape Town to the secondary school education division of the OUP headquarters, Ian Norris, like Roxanne, spoke about design decisions in relation to the perceived market need. Though he didn’t want to generalize, Ian said the academic division ‘doesn’t need to worry about color and the kind of engagement we worry about with my [educational division] design’ (Norris: 08.08.2012). In academic publishing, this emphasis on expectation and perceived need is important to design decisions but often overlooked. Therefore, technological determinist explanations cannot fully account for the absence of color or non-textual features.

In speaking with OUP designers, I found that expectation was as significant as, if not more significant than, production costs in design decisions. Roxanne further explained, ‘market expectation and willingness to pay should drive cost, not production cost’ (Selby: 17.08.2012). Thus different design decisions might be made when designing two textbooks of the same distribution rate and final price point. For example,Ian Norris explains that in his upper level textbooks for the Indian market,

‘the mathsy titles have to look as mathsy as possible, they want to know that doing that maths is impossibly hard, that’s the only one I don’t make look accessible, it’s just a kick in the teeth’

(Norris: 08.08.2012).

In this context, the design decision is predominantly driven by expectations of what upper level mathematics should look and feel like. This ‘mathsy’ aesthetic is assumed to be mostly equations because white space, colour, and visual engagement are not deemed as necessary at that level.

After regaling Ian’s interview to neuroscience student Rakesh Sharma, he suddenly interrupted me. ‘Oh my God, in my high school I would only consider those textbooks as serious as those, which did not have photographs.’ Referring to upper level high-school physics textbooks in India, he continues, ‘if there was a line diagram of a swing, I would buy it. But if there was a photograph, and (my God if it was in color!) There was no way I would ever touch it…’ Rakesh laughed. This was a surprising revelation in our conversation because we had spent the hour beforehand discussing the progressive use of colour, media, and unconventional representation systems in scientific publishing. Rakesh had just finished submitting an article with video content to a scientific journal, and foresaw no issues with why the media couldn’t be integrated into the predominantly digital journal.

Rakesh continued that his high school rationale was: ‘my God, they’re dumbing down physics for me, I’m so not going to buy that!’ He associated the use of photographs and color as dumbing down content, because upper level sciences were done in black and white text with vector drawings and graphs. Up until high school he said he insisted on ‘dowdy-looking books’ even to the extreme of using the 4th edition of a textbook from the 1990s because it was in black and white, unlike the 5th edition which his class was using and incorporated more color and images (Sharma: 08.08.2012). Rakesh’s reflection is rather representative of the often subconscious and encultured value judgments many interviewees experienced which ran counter to highly conscientious interest in functions like colour or images in certain contexts.

Through interviews, textbook design came to evolve from childhood in a progressive direction from the colourful, spacious and accessible to the dense, textual, black and white of upper level materials. Colour, images, space, and visually engaging design are then considered features to draw in attention for either less engaged students or commercial markets, two elements not considered applicable to academic publishing.  Though the most pervasive rationale for why alternative design or even distribution of alternative formats was often pinned on technological and financial constraints, the question of perceived need and function, adds significant cultural complexity.

On the Invisibility of Style & Default Systems Design  In the first dictum of Bryan Pfaffenberger’s standard view of technology, the presumption that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ is propagated by the belief that ‘all around us are artifacts originally developed to fulfill a specific need.’ He goes on to say that everything from juicers to word processors have been endowed with a strictly functional category which differs from ‘decorative or symbolic’ artifacts (Pfaffenberger 1992: 495). Word processors (and I would add the printing press) are then endowed only with a functionalist character, while the inventive, cultural nature is elided.

Pfaffenberger’s standard view of technology is an illuminating lens through which to look at academic design because many stereotypes of academic publishing reflect what I introduced as Rudy VaderLans’ default systems design.

Black and white, serifed type, fixed margin and spacing text gives the appearance of ‘the system by which the machine operates when no one is actively operating it. The system makes assumptions that, unchallenged, become truths’

(VanderLans 2006: 21).

The idea that certain ‘ornaments’, such as color and images, are distracting is a pervasive ethos in 20th century design. Interviewees often identified good design as that which does not intrude upon the pure delivery of textual content in academic publishing.

Design veteran Richard Lawrence explains that ‘good design is not apparent to the reader, you shouldn’t be distracted by the content…the essence of really good book design is that nobody notices that you’ve done it’ (Lawrence: 13.7.2012). As a long-term Science and Math’s editor and designer for publishing houses, Richard explains his perspective from the angle of scientific publishing.

“A good scientist produces material without colouring it…you don’t want people to be influenced by the information that is presented”

(Lawrence: 13.7.2012).

Though Richard was highly aware of the multitude of cultural and political factors in typographic selection and design, the bottom line for good design was the removal of apparent ornament that would distract from the content.

Throughout my thirty interviews with designers, students, academics, journal editors, and private publishers, no one disagreed that diverse media can serve a beneficial function in knowledge representation. Subconscious and sometimes conscious value judgments were still placed on non-discursive elements as ornamental, and only used to ‘dumb down’ or ‘sell’ content were equally pervasive.

In 1961, Susan Sontag noticed a similar phenomenon in literary, art, and film criticism in her essay entitled On Style. She begins by stating the obvious: no ‘reputable literary critic’ would seriously uphold the ‘old antithesis of style versus content.’ No one, she writes, would conscientiously argue that literary style is merely ‘decorative’ and without an organic function in the creation of meaning. ‘In the practice of criticism, though, the old antithesis lives on, virtually unassailed’ (Sontag 1961: 15). Her essay points to the exact conundrum of this thesis: the characterization of style as decorative and the perpetuation of the fallacy that ‘content, is, falsely isolated from style’ despite conscientious expulsion of the dichotomy (Sontag 1961: 15). In other words, that content can ever exist without style, that there can be a non-style, or in the context of this thesis, a non-design.  The examination of what we assume to be natural, rational and or objective is a core question in visual anthropology. The construction of what is stylized or decorative versus what is functional is important in understanding principles of what is considered without affect from human cultural systems and underlying prejudices and hierarchies. The Seduction & Distraction of Colour, Image & Engagement from the Rational Unpacking the Crystal Goblet and Invisible Design  In the historical synopsis of Elements of Typographic Style, Robert Bringhurst included the following excerpt from a 1770 English Parliamentary bill: ‘…All women of whatever age, rank, profession, or degree whether virgins, maids, or widows, that shall…impose upon, seduce, and betray into matrimony, any of His Majesty’s subjects, by the scents, paints, cosmetic washes, artificial teeth, false hair, Spanish wool, iron stays, hoops, high heeled shoes [or] bolstered hips shall incur the penalty of the law in force against witchcraft…and … the marriage, upon conviction, shall stand null & void’ (Quoted in Bringhurst 2005: 18).

What can scents, paints, and bolstered hips have to do with typographic design? Though Bringhurst does not expand upon the excerpt in critical depth, for him,

‘satisfaction of the craft [of typography] comes from elucidating, and perhaps even ennobling, the text, not from deluding the unwary reader by applying scents, paints and iron stays to empty prose’

(Bringhurst 2005:19).

This example mimics, almost verbatim, the previously discussed accounts concerning non-textual elements in design as either distracting or seducing, but not substantial.

 Bob Elliot, the long term OUP designer and current British library book designer, explained that one would use decorative elements, such as color, for a trade book to ‘make something more attractive. You wouldn’t go to that length in an academic book and that’s part of the argument…

‘what is important is the text and it doesn’t need tarting up’

(Elliot: 2.8.2012). He continued that as a self-proclaimed specialist in ‘traditional good letter setting’ and the ‘smart look stuff,’ he hasn’t done as much work with the ‘glitzy, fancy typography stuff.’ Associations of non-academic content in interviews were often described as tarted up, snazzy, glitzy, fancy, furnished content full of thrills. Color, images, and unconventional design are then guilty of the witchcraft of paints, bolstered hips, and scents to the ‘unfortunate parliamentarian, who live in terror of being tempted and deceived’ (Bringhust 2005: 19).

Bringhurst’s comparison of the power of scents and paints on empty prose with that of witches to parliamentarians may seem harmless, but it speaks to the heart of sensorial prejudices within constructs of the rational and scholastic. Constance Classen’s chapter on ‘the witches senses’ explores how accusations of witchcraft were based on deeper constructs of sensory progress. From Renaissance to Enlightenment literature, women were associated with the ‘lower’ senses of taste, touch, and smell, while men had the higher clarity of sight and rational thought. While women’s affinity with these lower senses was role defying in the kitchen, home, and bedroom, they also possessed ‘powers that emanated from their presumed primal, irrational nature’ (Classen 1998: 71). ‘Carnal lust,’ gluttonous poisons, ‘evil odours,’ were all accusations of witches sensorial sway over rational thinking.

Touch, Classen traces, was considered the most dangerous of the female senses, capable of ‘debilitation and destabilizing men’s bodies and minds’ (Classen 1998: 71). To use Bringhurst’s quote, the cosmetic washes and bolstered hips, of these women were part of a lower order of the senses, closer to the primal urges of experience which go onto evolve into the enlightened, discrete reason. Accusations of witchcraft were thus based on epitomized social evolutionist theory not on a seemingly arbitrary system of judgments. Witches were associated with the primal, more corporeal lower senses instead of the ‘higher’ senses, like vision, which could be used for discrete, abstract reason. What are some of the issues and disadvantages to approaches, which equate the scholarly as a presumably non-stylized abstraction from experience? This is relevant to concepts of what is taken seriously in 21st century academia, because as I have argued with brief examples of 19th century anthropological publications, it is not the technologies which dictate the use of different mediums for knowledge representation, but the approach to knowledge. Literacy as a foundation of scholarly thought is entrenched in social evolutionist rhetoric of a process of development away from human lifeworlds and towards reified reason. Characteristics like visual engagement, colour, and media affiliated with being closer to human experience or ‘life world’ as in photographs, film, and sound are then thought to be childlike or more engaging for lower level students. These elements are then secondary to the primacy and necessity of academic content as text, but not necessary to rational argumentation. By unpacking what appears to be default or the mechanical generation of content as neutral, we further situate how constructs within evolutionary paradigms towards discursive rationalism underlie 20th century design ethos. Social Evolutionary Progress as Print/Text Prejudices towards writing/text as an abstract system, divorced from sensorial engagement and thus representative of human cultural advancement can be traced through Jack Goody’s 1977 The Domestication of the Savage Mind, Walter Ong’s 1982 Orality and Literacy and David MacDougall’s 2006 The Corporeal Image. These three authors are particularly illustrative of a continuous paradigm because MacDougall (2006) was influenced by Ong (MacDougall 2006: 61 Notes), and Ong by Goody.

British social anthropologist Jack Goody explains in his 1977 The Domestication of the Savage Mind that he is trying to ‘throw out’ dichotomous thinking or ‘monocausal’ explanations of culture by surpassing the work of such academics as Levy-Bruhl who divided societies along pre-logical and logical lines. This ‘overhall’ is not because he disagrees with classifying certain cultures as primitive and others as advanced. Goody is an extension of British colonial anthropology even into the late 1970s. His mission is not to abolish the system of constructing ‘the savage,’ but to classify the advancement of culture according to respective usages of technologies of communication.

Colonial social evolutionary constructions of the primitive and savage are the well worn path of visual anthropology and studies of ethnocentricity. However, this line of thinking as it applies to linguistics and text is important in what I argue still persists in contemporary sensory and visual anthropology romanticizing the embodied or sensory as separate from the linguistic/rational. Goody frames his work as an explanation, instead of simply a description, unlike Levi Strauss’ The Savage Mind, in which Levi Strauss solely describes the differences between primitive/advanced and wild/domesticated thought. Goody adds that the question is not whether intellect exists across societies but what kind of intellectual activity exists. Goody justifies his approach by respinning complexes of the primitive versus modern through the use of writing as a technological and cognitive revolution in communication (Goody 1977:11).

Goody, through a technologically determinist lens, claims that the mechanism for change from so-called primitive to advanced thought systems happens via the use of alphabetic and written language.

In 1982, Walter Ong, drew from Goody’s ethnographic work along with the historical writing of classicist Erick Havelok to inform his claims of the distinctive cognitive structures in ‘primarily oral’ versus literate societies. Even as late 1982, Ong still discussed ‘primarily oral cultures’ as closer to the ‘human lifeworld’ (Ong 1982:43). In keeping with social evolutionary paradigms Ong perpetuates the nature/culture divide. He argues that ‘primarily oral societies’ were ‘antagonistically toned’ because of a heightened connection to physical and violent behaviour. This is a well-worn trope of evolutionary rhetoric of the noble savage, closer to nature and thus more animalistic, physical and irrational. However, Ong addresses this apparent proclivity towards the physical and violent with reasons as loose as ‘ignorance of physical causes of disease and disaster’ which can ‘foster personal tensions,’ particularly with the mysticism of causes like magicians and witchcraft (Ong 1982: 45).

Ong argues that knowledge in oral culture, through spoken word and gestural communication, is closer to the human life world because without reference structures to look up and structure knowledge at a distance, everything remembered must be of closer relevance to day to day experience (Ong 1982: 43). Writing, on the other hand, provides a system of separating the ‘knower from the known and thus sets up conditions of objectivity,’ in the sense of personal disengagement or distancing’ (Ong 1982:46). Though the notion of moving away from nature and into civilization through abstract systems, like discourse and writing, is a clear reiteration of evolutionist paradigm, I argue that some sensory anthropology reified these dichotomies in the 21st century. Howes, for example, argues for a sensory anthropology which involves ‘sensing cultures’ (in place of ‘reading’ them)’ (Howes 2005: 4). Howes is responding to important shifts in anthropology which moved away from treating cultures solely as texts, comprised of coded, meaning systems. However, Brenda Farnell argues this shift is like a pendulum swung back towards those senses and practices previously associated with the body, rather than dismantling mind/body dichotomies (Farnell 2011: 149). Writing has remained an abstract and disembodied practice, while other mediums, apparently closer to experience, are more corporeal.

Throughout Orality & Literacy, like Goody’s Domestication of the Savage Mind, there is a thinly veiled translation of the primitive as the non-literate, or preliterate, and the civilized as the literate.

Ong, like his mentor, media scholar Marshall McLuhan (1962, 1964), argued that the structure of the ‘technology of writing’ caused a more rational relationship to knowledge based on abstracted systems, like linearity and analytic argumentation through the invention of the Greek alphabet and it’s solidification into the printing press.

David MacDougall is an interesting example of a contemporary perspective because in his 2006 Vision and Voice he cites specific inspiration to Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy. While MacDougall takes an extremely critical and non-essentializing approach to questions of visual anthropologies’ future, there is an underlying romanticization inherited from Ong’s work in up- holding non-discursive mediums as the ticket to non-linear, non-abstract knowledge. He cites that film has an advantage over writing in the ‘co-presentation of objects and sensory patterns’ which text more commonly presents as linear and selectively (MacDougall 2006: 43). He then disputes Ong’s claim that oral cultures do not use an itemization of charts, headings and ‘other forms of abstraction,’ because one could argue that art and myth are a way of encoding information and abstract relationships. These systems, MacDougall argues, still bring more co-presentation than writing, because they use interreferential sensory stimuli while writing does not.

Again, like Ong, non-literate or preliterate societies and certain forms of content like myth and art are closer to embodiment and the human sensorium than the necessarily abstract and analytical systems of writing. This perspective is reflective of much sensory anthropology which took essentialized views of what and who was closer to embodiment from media and earlier anthropological literature, and argued to simply pay more attention to them rather than deconstruct the divides altogether.

Continued Prejudice in Contemporary Anthropology

Although anthropological challenges to conventional representational practices (Clifford, Marcus 1986), and incorporation of phenomenology in anthropology (Ingold 2000) have flourished, the practice of these ideas through non-textual content modes seems to remain categorized as peripheral, or alternative scholarship. Even as recently as this past May of 2012, the Society for Cultural Anthropology held a round table which discussed the question: How do alternative forms of academic production garner scholastic recognition, particularly in cases of tenure candidacy? Managing editor, Alison Kenner, of the journal for Cultural Anthropology said that the session attracted the most participants, aside from the central plenaries. ‘Dr. Kenner recounts that many attendees shared similar stories of warnings along the lines of ‘don’t bother doing any more ethnographic film or visual work until after you’ve got tenure because it will just kill your tenure case.’ The blanket exclusion of mediums like ‘ethnographic film’ or broad categories of ‘visual work’ are contradictory to over forty years of progress within visual anthropology and critical discussion of representational practice. Photography, film, and color may be used to record physical phenomena, however the noticeable ‘stylization of that content’ is considered only necessary when dumbing down or selling knowledge.

Ethnography and the Function of Invisible Design within Academia for Personalization 

Though I’d like to end by suggesting that deliberate neutrality of content, enabled through mechanization, perpetuates concepts of academia as a static archive, the actual function and use of academic content does not allow such an easy theorization. If the goal of academic content is to be used and read, I found that through learned habituation of standardized design, like similar layout, font size, format, students found it easier to use and personalize content, despite the highly problematic concept of neutrality.

Paul Nash, the founder of Strawberry Press and manager of the Bodleian Bibliography Room of printing presses, says that when doing typographic work for the Oxford Guild of Printers, experimental or contemporary design would ‘horrify’ the members because they ‘expect the rules’ (Nash: 5.11.2012). This is related to legibility because Paul explains that for him, overdesign using elements like unusual position, such as placing the heading in the outer margin, is when he ‘starts to rebel.’ He explains that when you have to turn the page around, tilt your head or search for elements, which are not in the expected place, it is less easy to read (Nash: 5.11.2012). This is significant in academic design because although I have questioned the values, which are propagated behind the veil of typographic or mechanical neutrality, constructs of neutrality have turned into habituated legibility. For many students interviewed, articles do provide a platform of neutrality to scribble, mark on and personalize.

Thus, though the appearance of neutrality is a construct, after learning to read through years of textbook designs like that of the maths and sciences textbook discussed at OUP, reading default styled journal articles because of habituation, standardization, and expectation provided a platform for personalization. Fellow visual anthropology student, Priya Singh, for example explained that even though she reads most of her articles electronically; she still uses digital editing software to digitally write in the margins and highlight text. The appearance of neutrality, makes it easier she explains, to personalize the content and incorporate it into research compared to magazine design which is highly guided and tailored with various elements, in which she says ‘I’d have to work harder to make it [my writing comments] stand out.’ Priya was in the vast minority of students I interviewed who preferred to read her research electronically. When she did do so though, she preferred pdfs, rather than content embedded in websites, which enabled her to mark and notate the articles even without printing them out.


Concentrated research for this thesis consisted primarily of thirty scheduled interviews ranging from forty-five minutes to three hours in varied locations such as student workspaces, Hyphen Press’ London studio and video Skype calls. Participants included Oxford University students, from diverse disciplines. I contacted the journal editors of Cultural Anthropology and Sensate because of their progressive stance on media incorporation. Small private publishers Strawberry Press, Acorn Press, Hyphen Press, and Albion Press all provided valuable perspectives on publishing practicalities outside of the main interviews done at Oxford University Press. I contacted specific academics because of an identifiable interest in visual anthropology, ethnomusicology, or the state of the discipline. Lastly, this research is grounded in archival research on the formatting of works from the photography-heavy books of John Berger and Jean Mohr (1967, 1989, 1999) to turn of the century anthropological and travel monographs using text and illustration in the Balfour library archives (Stoddard 1874, Wyatt 1876, Mateer 1883, Johnston 1905).

These interviews investigated how academic content is being designed, published, distributed, and used as a material product, whether as a digital PDF or printed monograph, in an industry of knowledge production. My interviewees came from diverse backgrounds and what unites them, for the interest of my research, is an active participation with and experiences within higher education, scholastic design, or publishing. Additionally, ‘academia’ as an ethnographic category is problematic because of the diversity of disciplinary practices and approaches within it.


1. Priya Singh : Visual Anthropology M.Sc. Student University of Oxford :  9.5.2012 : St. Catherine College Graduate Apartments (2hr)

2. Roxanne Selby : Oxford University Press Law Marketing Divison,  12.5.2012 : OUP Fairway : (45min) 17.08.2012 : E-mail Follow-Up

3. Lorna Richerby : Oxford University Press/Law Marketing:12.5.2012 : OUP Fairway : (45min)

4. Leikla Dewiji : Acorn Independent Press Ltd. Co-Founder  14.5.2012: : Phone: 7:00-7:30 : (30min)

5. Suresh C : Past Editor TESOL Quarterly Journal14.5.2012: Phone: 6:00-6:30 : (30 min)

6. Paul Nash : Strawberry Press & Bodleian Bibliography Room Manager11.5.2012 : Bodleian Bibliography Room  (2hr)

7. Ian : Student University Cambridge & Printing Hobbyist: Bodelian Bibliography Room 11.5.2012 : Bodleian Bibliography Room  (45min)

8. Ian Buck: Berg Publishing Designer 18.5.2012: Phone : (30min) 10:30 am


9. Ben Weiner: Typographer/Graphic Designer 7/5/2012 Turl St. Kitchen; 11:00-12:00 (1hr):

10. Richard Lawrence, Private Press Printer & Past OUP Designer & Editor  7/13/2012 + 7/14/2012 Cowley Studio (at least 2 hr each)

11. Kate Halls: Past Undergraduate Student of Arabic Studies University of Oxford & Translator 7/ 20/2012: The Missing Bean Coffee Café: 9:15-10:15am (1hr):

12.Adam Talib : Persian / Arabic Poetry, DPhil student, University of Oxford   7/25/2012: Lunch in Oxford Park: 2:45-3:45pm (1hr)

13. Bibliography Room Photo Session  7/13?/2012 : 3:30-5 (1hr: 30min)

14. Paul Nash & Alison ** : 7-11 7/27/2012 Strawberry Press Marton-in-Marsh  Dinner & Dissing : (4hr)


15. Sean Scotlock : Philosophy Masters Student  8/01/2012: Housemate: Kitchen Interview 1:00-4:30 (3hr:30min)

16. Bob Elliot (OUP & British Library Designer)  8/02/2012:  Turl St. Kitchen, Café: 3:00-5:45 (2hr: 45min)

17. Noelle Lopez (Philosophy Dphil Student)  8/03/2012: Cowley House: 6:24-7:50 (1hr: 36min)

18. Dina Akhmadeeva : History of Art Undergraduate Student, University of Oxford 8/06/2012 : Skype to London: 10:03am-11:45 (1hr: 45min)

19. Alison Kenner (Cultural Anthropology Editor):   8/07/2012: Skype to NY: 3:08-4:20 (1hr)

20. Mark Seymour ‎: Oxford University Press, Education Division    8/08/2012:  OUP Fairway 10:30-11:45/Lunch Continued OUP Eatery 12:45-1:30: (2hr 15min)

21. Ian Norris: Oxford University Press, Education Division  Designer & past OUP Capetown Designer   8/08/2012: OUP Fairway :11:45-12:45 (1hr)

22. Ian Knowles: Oxford University Press, Maths Editor Education Division   8/08/2012: Education Office Space: 3:03-4:05 (1Hr): (1hr)

23. Rakesh Sharma (Neuroscience DPhil Student): Turl St. Kitchen: 8/08/2012: Turl St. Kitchen 6:30pm-8:25pm : (2hr)

24. Julia Yezbik : SENSATE journal:   08/08/2012: Skype to Detroit: 8:30pm-11:00

25. Thomas Porcello : Vassar University : Media Studies/Ethnomusicology/Anthropology  08/15/2012: Phone : 4:00-4:50: (50min)

26. Connie Goldstein   08/17/2012: Skype from Pitt Rivers: 1:40 -2:11 (31 min)

27. Noel Lobely:   08/17/2012: Musem of Modern Art Cafe: 2:40-4:15 (1hr30min)

28. Jay Ruby: Temple University: 08/18/2012: Skype Video: 4:00-5:15 (1hr 15)

29. Robin Kinross: Hyphen Press :  08/21/2012 : London Offices:

30. Charles Goodwin : UCLA, Linguistic Anthropologist:  25.08.2012 : Skype call to California: 12:21 -1:11 am (50min)


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